Back in 2008, Metallica released Death Magnetic, arguably their best album since the early 90s. I blogged about it at the time. In summary, while the material was a triumphant return to form, somewhere in the mixing and mastering process, things were badly botched, and the album that was released sounded terrible: not only badly over-compressed, but also horribly clipped and distorted. On headphones it was unlistenable. In an odd twist, however, the album was simultaneously released as DLC for Guitar Hero 3, and this release used an unmastered rough early mix of the album that did not suffer from these problems (although it had other faults). Soon, remastered versions of the album based on this version appeared on the Internet, and although they did have some issues of their own, they sounded far better than the proper CD release.
But it turns out that the story doesn’t end there. Since (I think) 2012, Apple have set up a ‘Mastered for iTunes’ programme. It mostly seems to consist of using a different master to generate the compressed audio files that are sold through iTunes from the one used to produce CDs. Tricks are used with this alternative master so that when encoded in the lossy AAC format, the impact on the audio quality is minimised. Last year, Metallica’s back catalogue was added to the Mastered for iTunes catalogue.
And so Death Magnetic finally got the remastering it so badly needed, in an official, legitimate release.
At first, this version was only available if you bought it via iTunes (and even if you owned the original release on iTunes, you would have to buy it again). But the new master is also now available for sale via the band’s website, in either 320kbps MP3 or lossless FLAC or ALAC formats, the latter in either standard 16-bit/44.1kHz or hi-resolution 24-bit/96kHz versions.
And it sounds great. It’s still a modern, fairly loud and compressed recording, but no more so than is normal for a rock or metal release in 2016. And it’s the proper, finished mix of the album, unlike the GHIII versions, which are a little rough around the edges even after the excellent remastering jobs that various enthusiasts gave them. The version of Suicide and Redemption is the proper one with the shorter versions of both solos (not extended versions of either one or the other) and fades in and out in the right places.
At last it is possible to listen to this album in the finished form that the band genuinely chose to release, without it sounding like utter crap because of a badly botched mastering job. It’s taken 8 years, but we got there in the end.